"A Local Church is Christ's Body"—
A Prescription for Division in the Name of Local Oneness
1 Cor. 12:27 - Now you are the Body of Christ, and members individually.
Nigel Tomes, a divisive worker (Rom. 16:17; Titus 3:10-11), recently published an article in which he::
- Criticizes the ministry's definition of the local church as "the practical expression of the universal Body in their city" as "convoluted."
- Accuses the ministry of contradicting Paul's word that "you are the Body of Christ." 1
- Criticizes the ministry's encouragement of blending through fellowship among the churches.
- Claims that "over-emphasis on the universal Body and depreciation of the local aspect of the Body is responsible for the divisive activities we currently see in the recovery."
Nigel carefully selects passages from the ministry of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee to support his arguments, while ignoring those that directly contradict them. He tries to carefully choose his words to avoid the appearance of deviating from the ministry of Brother Nee and Brother Lee, but in fact he woefully distorts their teaching. He isolates 1 Corinthians 12:27 from its context and in so doing develops a meaning from it that is far beyond what is in the text. His interpretation is biased in order to justify the actions he and others have taken to separate The Church of the Torontonians from the common fellowship of the churches in the universal Body of Christ.
Is the Ministy's Definition of the Local Church "Convoluted"?
Nigel criticizes the statement that the church in a city is the "practical expression of the universal Body in their city," saying that such an expression is "convoluted." He implies that this definition originates from the co-workers who take the lead in the ministry in the Lord's recovery today. In fact, it is the definition used by both Brother Nee and Brother Lee:
There is no difference in content between the universal church and the local church, except that the local church is a miniature of the universal church. Paul said that the Corinthian believers were the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:27). This means that the local church represents the Body of Christ. The local church should represent the universal church. ( The Collected Works of Watchman Nee, vol. 43 , p. 572)
All the local churches are the one unique Body of Christ in the universe (Eph. 4:4). Every local church is a part of this universal Body, a local expression of this unique Body. This one universal church, the one Body, comprises all the local churches. There may be thousands of local churches, but together they constitute one universal church. The universal church is the unique Body of Christ, and all the local churches are simply the local expressions of this one Body. ( The Conclusion of the New Testament, Messages 189-204 , p. 2156)
This understanding has governed the practice of the churches in the Lord's recovery since the 1920s and has preserved them in oneness since that time.
"A Local Church Is Christ's Body"?
Nigel claims that 1 Corinthians 12:27 says that the church in Corinth is the Body of Christ as an entity locally. His exposition of this verse is diametrically opposed to the plain speaking of Brother Lee in his ministry.
We need to be impressed with the fact that the local churches are the local expressions of the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:27; Eph. 2:22). There is only one Body, but there are many expressions. Universally, all the churches are one Body, and locally, every local church is a local expression of that universal Body. Therefore, a local church is not the Body but only a part of the Body, an expression of the Body. ( The Conclusion of the New Testament, Messages 189-204 , p. 2156)
It is no doubt true that every local church has its own jurisdiction. However, we have taught very strongly that each local church is not a Body of Christ; all the churches together are the one Body. ( Elders' Training, Book 3: The Way to Carry Out the Vision , p. 128)
Nigel criticizes Benson Phillips for saying:
Not one local church is the Body; every local church is a part of the Body; there are many local churches but there are never many bodies. ( The Ministry Magazine, vol. 9, no. 2, Feb. 2005, p. 113)
Nigel claims that it is wrong to say that "every local church is a part of the Body":
However, this "blended co-worker's" assertion, "every local church is a part of the Body" does not follow as a corollary. That declaration is a non sequitur. It appears to contradict the Scripture—"You are Christ's body" (1 Cor. 12:27).
In fact, Benson's fellowship was simply a respeaking of Brother Lee's ministry and is entirely consistent with Scripture.
The local churches are the local expressions of the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:27; Eph. 2:22). There is only one Body, but there are many expressions. Universally, all the churches are one Body, and locally, every local church is a local expression of that universal Body. A local church is not the Body; it is only a part of the Body. It is a local expression of the Body. The church in Seoul is not the entire Body; it is a part of the entire Body as the Body's local expression. ( Vital Factors for the Recovery of the Church Life , pp. 48-49)
Nigel quotes Brother Lee as saying, "the local church ... is the Body to Christ and the dwelling place of God... Every local church is the Body of Christ for expressing Christ" [the elisions are Nigel's]. Nigel wrenches this quote from The Testimony and the Ground of the Church out of all context. Brother Lee's point in this chapter is that the testimony that the universal church bears should be borne in every locality by the church in that city. Earlier in the same chapter, Brother Lee makes the same point Nigel condemns Benson Phillips for making:
God's desire is that every local church would represent the Body of Christ to testify on behalf of Christ in their respective localities. Therefore, every local church is the expression of the universal church in that locality. Therefore, the church in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1), the church in Antioch (13:1), the church in Corinth (1 Cor. 1:2), and the church in any other locality are part of the universal church. The church in a locality is a small expression of the universal church in a particular locality. It not only represents the universal church, but it is also part of the universal church. It is the universal church being expressed in a locality at a particular time. ( The Testimony and the Ground of the Church , p. 172)
Brother Lee then proceeds in a section entitled "The Nature and Principle of the Universal Church Being the Nature and Principle of the Local Church" to speak of the testimony the church should bear, both universally and locally.
The local church is a miniature of the universal church. The situation of the universal church is the situation of the local church because the local church is a miniature of the universal church. The universal church expresses Christ, and the local church also expresses Christ, except on a smaller scale. Every local church is a representative of the universal church, representing the universal church in its locality by living out the proper life of the Body of Christ and thus expressing Christ.
The universal church is the Body of Christ for the expression of Christ and the dwelling place of God for the expression of God (Eph. 1:22-23; 2:20-22). Just as the universal church has these two aspects, the local church also has these two aspects: it is the Body to Christ and the dwelling place of God (Rom. 12:4-5; 1 Tim. 3:15). ( The Testimony and the Ground of the Church , p. 173)
Clearly, Brother Lee is not speaking of the local church as any sort of entity that has its own testimony or its own oneness apart from being a manifestation of the one unique Body of Christ, along with all the other churches. Rather, his point is that what the universal church is in bearing the testimony of Christ to express Him universally, so the local church should be in its own locality. Brother Lee's word countenances no sense in which the local church has its own oneness or is self-sufficient. It actually means that the local church should be in the spiritual reality of what the Body of Christ is. The irony is that Titus Chu, a worker with whom Nigel is closely associated, accuses the co-workers of elitism for teaching this (see "Can You Be in the Local Church But Not in the Body?" on this site.
Nigel's interpretation of 1 Corinthians 12:27 divorces Paul's words from their proper context. To understand what Paul meant when he told the Corinthian believers, "You are the Body of Christ," we must consider the situation in Corinth and the context of Paul's word in chapter 12. There were divisions among the believers in the church in Corinth.
The Corinthians' practice of the Lord's table (1 Cor. 11:17-22) and of tongue-speaking (1 Cor. 14:4) was self-centered and demonstrated a lack of mutual care. They seemed to have no realization that they were organically related members in one Body. Neither did they exhibit any sign of caring for the other churches in the Body of Christ in the way they conducted their church life. Paul repeatedly corrected the church in Corinth for deviating from the common teaching and practice of all the local churches in the matters of following the apostles (1 Cor. 4:16-17), remaining in the status of one's calling (7:17), headship and head covering (11:4-6, 16), women teaching in the church (14:33b-35), and collecting financial supply and giving in coordination with the other local churches (16:1). They seemed to have no realization that they were not an independent entity but should follow the churches (1 Thes. 2:14) and be the same as the other churches in one testimony (Rev. 1:9, 20).
When Paul says, "Now you are the Body of Christ, and members individually," he is not speaking of the church in Corinth as an administrative unit. He is certainly not advocating that a local church is the Body of Christ as an entity unto itself. Nor is he speaking of a local oneness apart from the universal Body. Rather, he is pointing out the mutual dependence of the believers as members of one organic Body.
For Paul to say to the saints in Corinth, "You are the Body of Christ," is to say that the practice of the church life in Corinth should bear all the characteristics of the universal Body of Christ. This is why both Brother Nee and Brother Lee spoke about the local church as a miniature to express the universal church as the Body of Christ manifested in a locality.
Nigel's exposition, with its emphasis on local oneness, ignores Paul's addressing of the book "to the church of God which is in Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, the called saints, with all those who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in every place, who is theirs and ours" (1 Cor. 1:2). There is one unique fellowship (1 Cor. 1:9; 2 Cor. 13:14) common to all believers "in every place."
Nigel's Criticism of Blending
1 Cor. 12:24b - But God has blended the body together, giving more abundant honor to the member that lacked.
Nigel says, "In the New Testament the usual pattern is that apostles (workers) travel, the saints do not. We look in vain for exhortations for the saints to gather nationally, internationally or globally for 'blending,' 'feasts,' for conferences or trainings." This is a direct attack on the attempts by Paul and John to blend the churches together (Rom. 16:1-23; Col. 4:15-16; 1 Cor. 16:1-9; Rev. 1—3; 2 Cor. 8—9; Gal. 1:2) 2 and on Brother Lee's burden that all the churches over the whole earth would be blended together to bear one corporate testimony as one new man (1 Cor. 12:24; Eph. 2:15; Col. 3:10). 3
Learn to fellowship. Learn to be blended. From now on, the churches should come together frequently to be blended. We may not be used to it, but after we begin to practice blending a few times, we will acquire the taste for it. This is the most helpful thing in the keeping of the oneness of the universal Body of Christ. ( The Divine and Mystical Realm , p. 87)
We must realize that when fellowship disappears, God also disappears. God comes as the fellowship. Today our meetings, our married life, the coordination among the co-workers, and the fellowship among the local churches are abnormal because we are short of this fellowship. Today there is not enough fellowship among the local churches, and the churches are not absolutely one in the fellowship. ( The Triune God to Be Life to the Tripartite Man , 1996 edition, p. 155)
We must have the reality of the fellowship and blending of the Body of Christ. Otherwise, regardless of how much we pursue and how simple and humble we are, sooner or later there will be problems, even divisions, among us. Hence, we must be governed by the vision of the Body and follow in the footsteps of the apostle by bringing all the saints in all the churches into the blending life of the entire Body of Christ. ( The Experience of God's Organic Salvation Equaling Reigning in Christ's Life , p. 71)
Brother Lee specifically charged the brothers to continue the seven international gatherings each year ( The Ministry Magazine, Vol. 5, No. 9, October 2001, pp. 17-18), not only for the release of the ministry, but also for the blending together of all the saints in all the churches throughout the earth. 4 The practice of holding trainings and conferences for gathering the saints together has a long history of being a great benefit to the saints and the churches in the Lord's recovery. Brother Lee pointed out that under the Lord's sovereign arrangement, modern transportation and communication has enabled the blending of the Body for the realization of the new man on an unprecedented scale:
All the local churches on the globe today should be one. Today, unlike in Paul's time, travel and communication to nearly anywhere on the earth are very convenient. Because of this, the churches today should be blended much more than they were in Paul's time. Not only according to the revelation of the Bible but also according to the modern conveniences, we should be one, and we should be blended together as much as practicality allows. ( One Body and One Spirit , p. 20)
The blending of the Body of Christ is possible through all the modern means of transportation. Hence, all the churches should live in life and in the spirit and be blended with one another for the manifestation of the reality of the Body of Christ. ( A General Outline of God's Economy and the Proper Living of a God-Man , p. 68)
Blending makes it more difficult for controlling elders and dominating regional workers to lord it over the believers (1 Pet. 5:3; 2 Cor. 1:24). This kind of control has been exercised in churches associated with Titus Chu, including in Toronto by Nigel Tomes and others. 5 Such unbridled exercise of power has led to denying the Lord's table or mass excommunications of large numbers of believers and has forced many saints to disassociate themselves from sectarian leaderships in Toronto, Columbus, and Mansfield.
Nigel Tomes himself is a close co-worker of Titus Chu. Titus' practice has been to exclude certain churches he cannot control from the circle of fellowship of the churches under his work, even churches in Cleveland's immediate vicinity. This is to carry out a divisive work. Titus Chu and his co-workers oppose blending because it would expose their wrongful manipulation of the saints and the churches that are under their work.
Furthermore, Nigel's criticism of blending is hypocritical, as Titus and Nigel do support traffic among the churches they control. In 2004 Titus sent a group of young people to Taiwan to spend time in a church that was at that time very open to him. This took place immediately after the International Chinese-speaking Conference in Taiwan, which those sent from Titus' area intentionally avoided. Nigel also carefully sidesteps criticizing regional conferences and trainings such as the ones Titus conducts and Nigel participates in. Such duplicity exposes a lack of straightforwardness in matters of truth and practice (Gal. 2:14).
The one expression of Christ is in the unique move of the unique God for the unique accomplishment of His unique economy (Eph. 1:10; 1 Tim. 1:4b) and in the unique blending in the unique life of Christ for His unique testimony in the universe (1 Cor. 12:24). Everything must be unique. If only the group of churches in your district are blended together, that is not the unique blending. That is a "sect blending." ( The Ten Great Critical "Ones" for the Building Up of the Body of Christ , p. 60)
Is Over-Emphasis on the Universal Body Responsible for Division?
Nigel claims that "over-emphasis on the universal Body and depreciation of the local aspect of the Body is responsible for the divisive activities we currently see in the recovery." 6 He argues that oneness begins at the local church level. This is contrary to the truth. The oneness of the church as the Body of Christ is the enlarged oneness of the Triune God (John 17:21-23). This oneness begins with the Triune God and proceeds through His dispensing of Himself as the life-giving Spirit into His believers to produce the Body of Christ. Thus the oneness of the Body is the oneness of the Spirit (Eph. 4:3-4). The Spirit Himself is the very essence of the oneness of the Body of Christ. All the churches participate in this one life and in the one fellowship of life (Acts 2:42; 1 John 1:3).
In a normal situation, the church should be one locally as well as one with all the churches universally. However, when a local leadership separates its followers from the common fellowship of the churches, opposes the common ministry to the churches, and excludes from fellowship saints who receive that ministry, that oneness has been annulled—that local leadership has caused division in the Body already. The oneness of the local church is the oneness of the universal church manifested locally. The local oneness Nigel proposes is a sectarian oneness separate from the common fellowship of all the churches and separate from the receiving of all the saints in that fellowship. This oneness is not the oneness of the Body of Christ. If a local leadership separates the church from the common fellowship of the saints and the churches, that group is no longer a local church but a local sect.
Turmoil after turmoil has transpired because of our not knowing the Body. The only remedy that can cure us of this kind of illness is the seeing of the Body. When Brother Nee taught about the Body he said that with whatever we do, we have to consider how the churches would feel about it. When we do something, we must not forget that we are members of the Body, and the Body is not only a local church. The local church is not a "local body"; if it is, it becomes a local sect. The Body is the Body of Christ, constituted by the Triune God with all the believers on this earth, with all the local churches. ( The Problems Causing the Turmoils in the Church Life , pp. 28-29)
The local churches should fellowship with all the genuine local churches on the whole earth to keep the universal fellowship of the Body of Christ. Any local church that does not keep this universal fellowship of the Body of Christ is divisive and becomes a local sect. Some so-called local churches are not genuine and have become divisions; we do not need to fellowship with such "churches." But we should have fellowship with all the genuine local churches on the whole earth to keep the universal fellowship of the Body of Christ. If not, we are no longer a church but a sect. A church is one that remains in the Body; a sect is a group of believers who divide themselves from the Body. When my arm remains in the body, it is a part of my living body. If it is cut off and separated from the body, it becomes a dead thing. ( Elders' Training, Book 10: The Eldership and the God-ordained Way (2) , p. 122)
If the elders make obedience to their claimed authority a condition of fellowship, they have removed the church from its proper standing as a local manifestation of the one Body of Christ and made oneness with the elders and their authority the actual and practical ground of the church. In such a case, the standing of that group has been transmuted into that of a sect. In Nigel's case, the application of this kind of local "oneness" would require that the saints be one with the divisive stand of a worker who has himself been quarantined by the Body for his divisive teaching and practice. In such a case, local "oneness" is a division from the Body.
Nigel's writings make a pretense of advocating oneness with all believers throughout the earth as the universal Body and oneness with the believers locally. In fact, he advocates and practices neither. Most tellingly, he does not affirm the oneness of all the local churches as the practical expressions of the Body of Christ on the earth today. In this way he negates the practicality of the Body of Christ and avoids confronting the divisive nature of his own activities as well as those of Titus Chu and the quarantine exercised by the churches as the Body towards them. He goes so far as to claim that the quarantine does not represent the Body because there are many believers outside the churches in the Lord's recovery. This is itself contrary to a statement he earlier signed:
Frankly, you three brothers [in Vancouver] have caused a serious offense against the Body! By your habit of receiving brothers, being disciplined by the Body, i.e. Brother X and Joseph Fung, you are offending the local churches and therefore damaging the oneness of the Body of Christ. (from a letter to leading ones in Vancouver from elders and co-workers in Metro Toronto, December 18, 1992, signed by Nigel Tomes, among others)
Nigel redefines oneness as it suits him, that is, as it enables him to continue his divisive activities and to exercise control with the sectarian leadership in Toronto. By his self-serving interpretation he only confirms the co-workers' warning that he is a factious, divisive person from whom the saints should turn away (Titus 3:10; Rom. 16:17).
2 See One Body and One Spirit , pp. 21-23.
3 This subject is covered far more extensively in " The Way of Blending and the Leadership in the Ministry in the Lord's Recovery Today."
The Secret of God's Organic Salvation: "The Spirit Himself with Our Spirit" , p. 10;
The Practical Points Concerning Blending , p. 40;
The Governing and Controlling Vision in the Bible , p. 32; and
1993 Blending Conference Messages Concerning the Lord's Recovery and Our Present Need, p. 141.
5 See the documents in the book Concerning Sectarianism and Abuse of Authority in Toronto .
6 Nigel's claim reflects Titus Chu's accusation that the co-workers "de-emphasize" the local church and thereby neglect the "basic commitment" of the ministry of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee. These false accusations are examined in "Do the Co-workers 'De-emphasize' the Local Church?"